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Chapter Six—Light of Their Lives
"So, are you really Harry Potter?"
Harry counted to twenty under his breath. Ten wasn't enough, even though he had been anticipating this question since he sat down at the Gryffindor table this morning. Then he turned around, making sure to take a big bite of his bacon first. The taste of it in his mouth was still a miracle.
The students watching him were first-years. One had big enough eyes and a shiny enough face that Harry was reminded of Colin Creevey. He swallowed hard, and coughed a little as the bacon went down the wrong way. Having Colin's death confirmed when he returned to the world had been a blow, if a minor one compared to some of the others he'd suffered.
"Yeah, I am," Harry said simply. Draco had told him that morning, before they came into the Great Hall, that Harry could eat breakfast in Draco's quarters if he wanted and avoid all this. But Harry had insisted on his original plan of eating with each House-table in turn. So really, he had brought this on himself.
"Wow!" The kid looked ready to fall over backwards. Another one, a girl this time, leaned forwards, brown braids swishing.
"Why did you stay away for so long?"
"Because I was guarding a piece of Lord Voldemort to keep him from coming back to the world," Harry said, and saw the wave of fear at the name pass around the table, making them leap and start and cry out and stare over their shoulders. Harry held back the impatient sigh that wanted to slip out. Yes, they were silly to be scared of the name. But he wasn't going to scold them for it.
On the other hand, he wasn't going to hide what he had gone through, either. He wasn't going to pretend to be ordinary when he wasn't.
He did glance over his shoulder at the High Table. Draco was sipping tea from a thin cup and discussing something with Professor Flitwick. Harry relaxed. He would be watching if he thought there was a chance that Harry was in danger, the way he always watched.
"Weren't you scared?"
It was the girl with brown hair again. Harry turned back to her. "A lot of the time," he said honestly. "But sometimes I was bored. You know how you get bored when you do the same thing again and again?" The first-years nodded fervently, probably thinking of studying and repetitive essays. "It was like that. But then I would feel guilty for getting bored, because that might have let Voldemort slip past me."
More flinching, but they were getting used to the idea. The boy took over again. "Is there any chance that he's going to come back now you're here?"
Harry smiled. "No. Before I left and came back to the world, I made sure that he was destroyed completely." It was easier to say that than to try and explain something they wouldn't understand anyway. Between the Deathly Hallows and the Horcruxes, there was already enough going on that Harry didn't know if he could make it make sense for someone who hadn't been there.
The girl opened her mouth again, but the boy poked her in the side. "We should let Harry eat," he said seriously. "We've already asked enough questions."
"You got to ask two," said the girl, and turned stubbornly back to Harry. "Are you going to be a sixth-year or a seventh-year or what?"
"I'm going to be a seventh-year," said Harry. It was true that he hadn't paid as much attention to his classes during his sixth year as he should have, focusing on Dumbledore's "lessons" in Horcruxes and what Malfoy—Draco—was doing at the time, but he had passed the exams the professor set to be admitted into their NEWT classes. "I'll be leaving at the end of this year."
The girl frowned. "At least you get to eat a lot of meals with us!"
"Well, at lunch this afternoon, I'll be going over to the Hufflepuff table," Harry said, twisting and glancing over his shoulder to judge how the Hufflepuffs were looking at him. If they seemed really hostile, he wouldn't try it, but they simply looked interested in his conversation. "And at dinner tonight, I'll probably eat with the Slytherins."
"Slytherins? Ew! Why would you want to eat with them?" The boy might actually have hawked and spat in the middle of his plate, Harry thought, only his parents had probably taught him better manners.
"I was almost Sorted Slytherin, you know," said Harry mildly.
That made the boy and girl gape at him, and Harry added, "And I think that most Slytherins probably aren't evil. They're just cold because they think they have to be. But whether because they want to be polite or because they want me to know who they are and admire them, I bet they would have told me their names by now."
Both of them flushed, and their voices tumbled over each other so that Harry had to ask them to repeat the introductions a few times before he was sure that the girl was Mindy Downston and the boy Gabriel Thistle. Then he went back to talking with them in a more normal way.
He did glance up at the professors again when he was getting ready to go to his first class, and found Draco watching him, calm and constant. Harry nodded back, glad that Draco didn't think he was doing much wrong.
If there's any professor who would really know whether the students don't like me, it's Draco.
It was harder not to show favoritism to Harry in Potions than Draco had expected.
On the one hand, it was simply a matter of keeping the desire to intervene in check. And while Harry would probably never be a Potions genius, he was brilliant enough at them. So Draco didn't have to scold or whisper clues, and while Harry, partnered with a seventh-year Gryffindor named Heather Jewell, did produce a potion several shades of color off normal, it wouldn't be enough to earn him less than an Acceptable.
Far harder was holding in the urge to praise Harry, or touch his shoulder, when Draco saw him get something right.
Draco had never thought of himself as someone to admire other people too much. Professor Snape had earned his admiration with his behavior during the war and his attempts to protect Draco, but only after he had died and the full story of all that he had been hiding during the war came out. Draco had resented him at the time.
He had admired many of his Potions instructors, but only for their skill in their art. They might be greedy or charmless or lacking in personal hygiene. Draco could put up with it to learn from them. He just wouldn't take them as role models.
He liked his friends, he loved his parents, but he admired them less—far less, in some cases—after the war than he would have if he had never changed his convictions. And no matter how irritating Blaise and Pansy might be when they said that Draco was hiding at Hogwarts to reprise Professor Snape's life, it was better than them suspecting the truth: that Draco couldn't bear to spend as much time around them as he had when he was a child.
His admiration for Harry was a living, breathing thing, a warm creature that he wanted to feed. He could do so in private, but the Potions classroom was the wrong context.
He had known all that in advance, which should have made it easier to hold the admiration in check. He still had to convert the motion of a hand that would have patted Harry's back into a grasp on a stirring rod that sixth-year Tamara Yeltsin was moving in the exact wrong direction.
Draco then turned his voice into a series of murmured instructions to Yeltsin, who flushed a little and promptly attended to them. Draco deliberately kept his eyes away from Harry for the rest of the class, except when he made the rounds to check on all the potions and found Harry's a little off-color. He nodded and offered the measured praise that he would for someone whose potion wasn't exactly right.
Harry's partner, and the rest of the ordinary students, noticed nothing wrong. Harry himself looked at Draco with bright, intelligent eyes.
Draco held his tongue in check until the class was over, and then murmured to Harry, "Mr. Potter. Come to my office tonight at seven, please."
Harry gave him a single piercing glance, and nodded.
But what really made Draco's day was the smile that Harry flashed him, unseen by the others, before he rejoined the flow of students outside the classroom again.
Harry knocked on the door of Draco's office, biting his lip as he did. Was he here for detention? It was true that Draco hadn't used the word, but Harry knew that his potion hadn't been that well done, and he couldn't even attribute it that much to his partner; he had simply had more trouble concentrating with people around him than he had in the silence of the exam in Draco's office.
He knew what Ron would probably say to that. You need to concentrate if you're brewing in any situation. Especially if you want the Potions NEWT to be an Auror.
Harry shrugged a little. He didn't know if he still wanted to be an Auror, but even if he did, when he was done with Hogwarts, he wouldn't be in Ron's class or corps. That possibility had been destroyed forever by Harry staying behind with the piece of Voldemort's soul.
Before Harry could travel too far down the maudlin road, the door opened in front of him, and Draco's light voice called, "Enter."
Harry blinked as he ducked into the office. There was a cauldron bubbling away over a fire in the center of the room, and on the table next to it were the same ingredients for the same potion that they had worked on in class.
"Harry," said Draco, and rose to his feet from behind his desk, his smile small, but genuine. Harry relaxed and smiled back. "Do you care to show me what you can do when you aren't busy listening to compliments and giggles from other people?"
"Compliments and giggles?" Harry asked blankly, tilting his head back to look at Draco. He feared to encounter some anger there, but Draco only looked calm, the way he had during Harry's Potions exam.
"Surely some of your classmates were giggling at having you back among them," said Draco, and leaned against his desk. His face remained bland, but his words seemed important, if only because Harry couldn't really understand them, and this was one of the first times he hadn't understood something Draco had said since he came back. "And I heard a few distinct compliments on your skills and your eyes."
Harry shrugged. "As long as they don't compliment my scar or my bravery, I don't care that much. But I'm sorry they disrupted your class."
"Not that so much," said Draco, waving one hand. Harry had the impression that he had relaxed further, though, some tension going out of his shoulders that had been there. "I can handle the class. I do think they impacted on your performance, though."
"Maybe they did," Harry acknowledged. He had heard a few of the compliments Draco was talking about, and rolled his eyes at them, although he hadn't thought they'd hurt the steadiness of his hand or the way he chopped ingredients. "How long do you want me to take to make the potion?"
"As long as you would in an ordinary class." Draco sat down behind his desk again and reached for one of the endless piles of essays. "Try to make sure that your attention to the potion is absolute, even if someone knocks on the door or comes in for a detention."
"Your confidence in me is touching," Harry muttered, as he turned back to the potion and tried to figure out what the best strategy for attacking it would be.
"I think it's no less than you deserve."
Harry jerked a little and looked at Draco, but Draco was absorbed in the essays without it even seeming like an act. Harry had to shake his head and give up on attempting to stare him out of countenance.
It was even nicer than the exam, though, being here with Draco, he thought. Draco was still a silent and strong support next to him, and there wasn't the pressure to get things right so he would be let into the NEWT class this time.
And it was a good distraction from the miserable failure that sitting at the Slytherin table for dinner had been.
He'd tried, he really had. He hadn't recognized any of the Slytherins at the table, not even the seventh-years who might have been in their first year when he was last out in the world, and so he'd simply sat down in the first empty seat and given them a friendly hello. But that student pulled her robes back away him as though he'd threatened to burn them, and the others had performed a collective shrinking back and turning away of heads.
Harry had no idea what had upset them, his reputation or his former House or something else. He had stayed quiet throughout dinner, eating only what he'd already put in front of him, and no one had said a word to him or taken a glance at him. He'd left early, and not heard one gossipy sound from behind him, either. The Slytherins seemed to have decided that he didn't exist.
It had upset him more than he knew it was worth. So he couldn't expect everyone to see right away that he had changed, and he couldn't expect everyone to welcome him with open arms. He'd thought about asking what their problem was, but even phrasing it like that might have made them upset.
He would sit with the Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors and Ravenclaws from now on, and only speak to any Slytherins who wanted to speak to him. Harry thought that if there had been one person was really friendly with him, they would have done something at the table, but instead, the Slytherins had presented a united front of disdain. There was no Slytherin who cared to be on speaking terms with him, so he would leave them alone.
Harry turned his head, and met Draco's eyes, unexpectedly. Draco had looked up from his pile of essays and was watching Harry in an unhurried way. Harry started.
"Do pay more attention to your potion," said Draco, in the way of chiding he had that didn't sound like chiding at all.
Harry nodded, and turned back to gathering the ingredients. Brooding on why the Slytherins had rejected him was silly, he decided firmly. They had a perfect right to do whatever they wanted, and so did Harry, including not sitting at their table again. It was a tiny incident in the middle of the life he was trying to rebuild.
Not worth nearly as much as being good at Potions, or pleasing Draco.
Draco had to stop writing when he noticed that there was a pattern in his remarks. He liked to give each student unique feedback on their essays, and instead, he had used "Unfortunately" the last three times. He settled back in his chair and shook his hand out, resting his wrist.
He'd expected Harry to take the opportunity for more conversation, but he seemed to have taken Draco's last admonition to heart. He was concentrating solely on the number of stirs he gave the potion, even to an expert eye like Draco's.
He was worried about the Slytherins.
Draco knew that was it, and more than that, he knew the reason that his House had turned their backs so comprehensively. They had settled into a world where people didn't blame them for the end of the war the way they had expected. That had a lot to do with Harry disappearing mysteriously into the Forbidden Forest rather than returning and conducting some huge battle where the Slytherin students of the time would have had to choose where they stood. Their fading into obscurity, along with the Dark Lord, had been perfect as far as they were concerned.
But now Harry was back, and now there was speculation in the papers and letters and constant public chatter about the exact way he had returned, and whether the war was over after all. And some people only needed that excuse to pick up their former suspicions about Slytherin House. Suddenly the obscurity that had protected them was being turned against them. Reporters who had never cared before were trying to pry into the state of their hearts concerning Harry Potter. Students from other Houses asked them what they thought about him. And they had to watch their own Head of House being close with him.
Draco had dealt with every Slytherin who had come to question him in private, carefully and thoroughly. No, he wouldn't favor Harry in class. Yes, Harry would have some privileges that ordinary students didn't, because he wasn't an ordinary student. Yes, he had been intimately involved in Harry's return from death.
Some of them had walked out of his office when they heard that last. Draco had respected their choices—he would respect their choices even if they chose to leave the school or never bring a problem to him again—but he wouldn't have stepped back from rescuing Harry for any reason, once he was caught up in the problem and the solution. Not because of gossip from stupid people outside Hogwarts, especially.
There was such a tangle of deeds and misdeeds and recriminations left over from the war, Draco doubted that they would ever be worked through completely. He would help the students who needed help, who asked him for help, who had problems that he could do something about. The others, he was wise enough to leave alone. And he wouldn't insist that they sit with Harry at meals. He didn't think Harry would try it again, anyway.
But if any of them thought that the confusion swirling around Harry's return was enough reason to hurt Harry…
Draco's fingers twitched towards his wand.
That was a different thing. Most things concerning Harry were different.
"Draco? I'm done."
Despite them being in his office, Draco knew that insisting Harry call him Professor Malfoy would simply backfire, lessen the trust growing between them. And Harry always remembered to call him by his correct title in front of the other students. That was the way it should be.
Draco got up and circled around the table, inspecting the potion Harry had just brewed minutely. Yes, it was a delicate and cloudy white, the right shade. The Pervading Perfume Potion, used to combat lingering stains and smells, had a scent and color like lilies unless it was later altered by the addition of other ingredients.
"You've done well," he said, and bottled the potion with a tap of his wand on the edge of the cauldron. Harry looked impressed, and opened his mouth as if to ask how the spell was done, but Draco continued. "You've proven to me that you can brew under perfect, silent conditions. Now you need to show me that you can work well with other students."
Harry hesitated once, then asked, "Can I have a different partner?"
"I don't assign partners permanently." Professor Snape had, in his NEWT courses, and so had some of Draco's other Potions masters, but Draco considered it a waste of time. Some students would coast on their partners' brilliance, others would be dragged down by their mistakes, and either way, they could fall into too comfortable a routine. "You'll have to prove to me that you can work well with a variety of people."
"I want to do that anyway."
Seeing the way that Harry's eyes had lit up and cast a whole new kind of light over his face, Draco decided that he had to say something else, something hard. "Harry. Are you doing this because you want to do well in Potions, or because you want to please me?"
Harry's breath caught, and he looked as if he might retreat for a second. Then he squared his shoulders and said, "Something of both, I suppose. Can you live with that?"
Draco touched one hand to his hair, about to rake it through, but lowered it again when he saw how intently Harry was following his movements, his moments.
You're my constant.
Too late to push Harry away, to declare that it should never have happened this way, that he needed someone closer to his own age, which was Draco's. Draco had known about the potential dangers when he agreed to let Harry stay here. And he watched the progression of the warmth in his own breath and belly with some understanding.
"All right," said Draco, speaking softly. "As long as you understand that I'm still Head of Slytherin House, and they need me. If it comes down to an individual student having a problem with you, this is going to place me in a very difficult position."
"Did it before, when someone from one of the other Houses had a problem with a Slytherin?"
Draco hesitated again. "No. But you aren't an ordinary student."
"And the reason that you asked me to come to your office tonight wasn't for a detention." Harry stepped towards him.
Draco raised his hands. He didn't know where they were going to come down, until Harry reached out and caught both of them and settled them on his shoulders.
"There. Now, whatever trouble is going through your mind, we can face it together," Harry said.
Draco took a deep breath and looked him directly in the eye. "I meant it when I said that I would let Professor McGonagall sack me before I gave up on being with you. But if I'm staying here as a professor, I have to be an honest one. There can't be anything more to it than just a professor and a student for now."
"As long as I'm a student here, and you're a professor," said Harry.
"Exactly. Even if you do well in the class," Draco added, out of an obscure fear that Harry might think impressing him in Potions was the way to his heart.
Harry stepped back and laughed aloud. "I don't think I'm ever going to be good enough in Potions to tempt you to break your word."
"You don't need skill in Potions to be a temptation."
Draco had meant the words simply and sincerely, but the way Harry took them, they were more than that. Suddenly there was a way that he tilted his head and looked at Draco that was stirring, and the way he reached up and touched Draco's left arm, above where the Dark Mark lay, was a touch that made Draco's breath catch.
"You were listening to what I said?" Draco seized Harry's hand.
"I was listening," Harry said, and his words were as soft as a caress. "And what I'm thinking is that it isn't long until the end of the year, when I won't be a student any longer. If I pass my NEWTs—"
"Don't think you won't," Draco interrupted. Serious personal conversation or not, he wasn't about to listen to Harry put himself down. "Of course you will."
Harry half-smiled at him and continued as if he hadn't spoken. "When I pass my NEWTs, then I won't always stay here. And you're one of the few people who's consistently accepted that I'm older than the age I look. Will your answer be the same then?"
"You're a temptation," Draco acknowledged. He felt as though he was edging out on a rope above a pit, far more than he had been even when he was in the most difficult throes of his Potions master training, which was the time most comparable. His back felt slick with sweat under his robes. "Not enough of one to make me break my professional code."
"Because you won't date students," Harry said, his eyes soft and compassionate. "I'm only asking about the time when I'm no longer a student."
Draco half-shook his head. Harry was the one who had said date, but he felt the shock of the word in his own mouth.
"Even talking about it makes it more difficult for me," he warned Harry. "Please—hold back, don't do that anymore, or I'll lose what I value the most."
"The opportunity to have me around?" Harry shook his head in turn when Draco stared at him. "I know that only because it was the same thing I was thinking. I promise, among the many things I'm never going to be good at is Legilimency."
Draco squeezed his hand once and let it go. "You understand," he whispered. "You understand why this would be so hard for me."
"Yeah," said Harry, and though he left the warmth and weight of his hand behind, it did slip off Draco's arm. "And I won't ask you to compromise your standards any more than you already have." His gaze was so steady, so full of light, that Draco had to move and put the desk between them. "Thank you for listening. For not retreating."
Draco nodded. "I only said that it would make it harder for me if you went on talking about it. Not that I want to give you up, or that I'm not—open to the idea once you're no longer a student."
Here again, Harry showed his difference from ordinary students, because he didn't argue that he was an adult, and he didn't press. He nodded, smiled once at Draco from beneath his eyelids, and left.
Draco leaned back against the wall with his mind in a whirl and shut his eyes.
Different from ordinary students? You know it goes further than that, Draco, or this wouldn't be such a problem. You've had favorites before, and people who are more skilled than others and who you admired for the quickness of their minds.
Say, rather, different from anyone else in the world.
Harry turned around. He knew his expression probably wasn't neutral, but, well, fuck that anyway. All he wanted was to make sure that what he did wasn't going to come back to haunt Draco, who might receive insults from some of the other professors that Harry was unaware of. "Yes?"
The student standing behind him was one of the Slytherins who had utterly ignored him when he sat at their table, but at least hadn't whispered and glanced at him. She had a pale face and straight hair that looked as if it wouldn't dare do anything but stay where she put it. She also had a book under her arm and a finger that she pointed at him.
"It wasn't personal, Potter," she said. "We really do believe that you came back from the dead, and you probably want to make the world a better place, because Gryffindors always do."
Harry just looked at her without much interest. Someone who thought he was still an uncomplicated Gryffindor wouldn't say anything he wanted to hear.
"But we knew that you're the light of Professor Malfoy's eyes, and some of us were worried that you would make trouble for him." The woman leaned forwards. "He's done a lot for us. We don't want him in trouble."
Harry blinked. "What's your name?"
"Morgan Holmes." The girl looked as if she was giving him a gift, saying that. Well, it was a gift that Harry would use, then, although not for very long.
"I'm not going to get him in trouble, Holmes," said Harry. She would probably want to be addressed by last name, just the way she'd addressed him. And she watched him without flinching, so it seemed okay. "Maybe stupid people from outside the school would try to say that he brought me back to life from some personal rivalry, or something like that. But I'm not going to listen to gossip. I won't sit with your table again because I was unwelcome. But I also won't ask for special favors from him, or try to take all his time. So you can stop worrying about that."
That got him another unwavering, considering stare, before Holmes finally nodded slowly enough that some glaciers probably moved faster. "And a deeper kind of trouble?"
Harry knew what she meant. The same deeper kind of trouble Draco had asked Harry not to give him, not to tempt him into.
Harry shook his head. "Not that kind, either."
Holmes watched him meditatively for a bit, then said, "If anyone could do it, you would be the one."
Harry surprised himself by snorting. "It's beneath my dignity, and a long way beneath his."
Holmes abruptly straightened her back and said, "I'll tell the others not to bother you. Some of them were planning to sabotage you in Potions if they were assigned as your partner." Harry didn't bother correcting her by saying that was the stupidest thing they could do if they wanted to stay on Draco's good side, because, from her tone, Holmes knew it herself. "But you don't deserve that."
"What changed your mind?" Harry asked. Holmes wouldn't have participated in it, he knew, but she wouldn't have stopped it either.
"Because you get it," said Holmes. "I understand. And I know it from the way you said that, and the way you understand dignity and why it's important."
She walked away without looking back. Harry stood there blinking for a second, then shrugged and went on his way to Defense. In conclusion, Slytherins were weird, and that hadn't changed in six years.
But that doesn't make one of them any less worth it.